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Burt Rutan Wows Spokane Crowd

Felts Field celebrates grand weekend of flight

By Ric Reynolds, News Editor, EAA 642317

Boeing Model 40
Addison Pemberton’s meticulous Boeing Model 40 restoration soars over eastern Washington.

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan addresses the crowd Saturday night in the new Chapter 79 hangar.

View the photo gallery

June 9, 2011 — Felts Field in Spokane, Washington, home airport to EAA Chapter 79, is one of the coolest airports around and last weekend proved why. A veritable “candy store” for aviation enthusiasts included an open hangar event that drew 10,000 people, a Grassroots Pilots Tour stop with EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower, EAA’s B-17 tour with Aluminum Overcast, and lots of great vintage airplanes, flying and on display.

But an appearance by one of aviation’s coolest personalities and newest area resident – Burt Rutan – shot Felts Field’s coolness factor off the charts. The recently retired aircraft design legend, who now lives just 30 minutes away in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, spent the day with EAA members. He and Hightower both spoke at the Saturday evening banquet held at the centerpiece for the weekend’s festivities, EAA Chapter 79’s sparkling new hangar.

“It was fun getting with the EAA folk again,” Rutan later texted to Hightower. The chapter also made him a life member. Rutan spoke for about 30 minutes at the Saturday night banquet with local dignitaries and members in attendance. During an extended Q&A session, he revealed that SpaceShipOne was his greatest personal achievement.

Rutan will be honored at Oshkosh this year as AirVenture 2011 celebrates a Salute to Burt Rutan on Thursday, July 28.

Chapter 79 director and weekend organizer Larry Tobin called it “a tremendous weekend in Spokane.” Who could argue, as chapter members filled the ramp with a number of classic airplanes like several Stearman biplanes (including the world’s oldest – a 1927 C3B) and the world’s oldest Boeing airliner, Addison Pemberton’s  Model 40 (also the world’s only flying example).

Fellow Stearman owner Hightower had the opportunity to fly formation in Tobin’s N2S3 Navy Stearman. Rod’s wife, Maura, also had her first flights in both the B-17 and Model 40.

Hightower came away impressed with the airport environment and what he perceived as an “extremely positive local attitude” toward the airport and GA. Felts Field is a 400-acre general reliever with 320 aircraft and 49 tenants based there, including the FBO, Western Aviation.  Among its 105 acres are 6,000 feet of frontage on the scenic Spokane River including a seaplane base. The Spokane Airport Tenants Association (SATA) has been instrumental in creating pilot and community support for Felts Field over the past number of years.

Jeff Hamilton, former SATA president who was recently appointed to the Spokane Airport Board, said the success at Felts Field is due to a coordinated effort to support elected officials who would appoint capable people with an aviation perspective and a GA orientation to the airport board.

“The airport board manages both airports and the industrial park,” he said. “Today three of the seven board members are EAA members, bringing aviation and business expertise to the board. This is a great benefit as we try to sustain and grow the aviation base in the community, including a real focus on Felts Field, which is a tremendous asset for Spokane.”

By being thoughtful and building relationships with those in a position to put their support toward local airports, any local airport community can work together and make a difference, he added.

Hamilton made special mention of Larry Krauter, recently hired as CEO of the Spokane Airport System. “We were extremely delighted to see Larry take such an active role on Saturday at the event. It’s great to have him take such an interest in and be so supportive of GA,” he said.

 “I think we can all learn a thing or two about how to maximize an airport’s potential from what’s been accomplished in Spokane,” Hightower said.
At Friday’s Grassroots Pilot Tour, Hightower discussed the leading aviation issues of the day, and had an open dialog about the future direction of the EAA organization. Also shown was the EAA AirVenture 2011 promotional video, along with talk about the upcoming convention and enjoying that great sense of camaraderie among aviators.

The Thursday-through-Sunday EAA B-17 tour stop provided flight missions and ground tours starring Aluminum Overcast. Several local officials also took flights on the World War II bomber during what was described as one of the most successful stops this year.

“The weekend provided tremendous exposure for EAA and the chapter,” Hightower commented. “The new chapter hangar is located at the center of the airport and served as the epicenter for the entire weekend. It was a good, positive weekend for aviation.”

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